Skip to main content

What Should You Know Before Flying for the First Time?


Layover Inspiration

While waiting at the airport during a layover, I lounged back and enjoyed writing a few articles (including jotting down some notes for this one). I also had time to consider how nice it was that I could type out an article, and that I had brought along my laptop, phone and phone charger, and everything else I would need in case of a layover, or during the flight. I was, essentially, prepared for this.

It occurred to me that you, gentle reader, might not be as thoroughly prepared as I was during this particular flight, as it was approximately my 200th flight overall. However, I don’t take any of this for granted, because I can still remember the first time I flew back in 2001. I’ve learned a great deal about flying and how to “survive," from tedium to turbulence. I’m going to share three tips that will help make your first flight (or any future flights) more enjoyable.


Tip #1: Prep for the TSA Line

One thing that can be a bit stressful for some folks starts before you even make it to the first leg of your flight: the TSA line. TSA (the Transportation Security Administration) has been fairly strict ever since 9/11, but knowing a small handful of things can really help make the trip through the line much easier. Here are a few things to know in advance:

  • You'll need to go through the line after you have gotten your ticket at the front desk. Most people buy their tickets online, so the check in process just requires a credit card and sometimes a driver's license.
  • Next, you'll head to the TSA line and be corralled into a zig-zagging line where you will need your "boarding pass" (ticket) and a photo ID.
  • From there, you'll get into another (typically shorter) line on the way to the millimeter wave detector (this is non-iodizing radiation and considered 100% safe, but if you'd prefer not to go through it, you can elect to be groped instead)
  • While in this line, you'll need to take off your shoes and put them into one of the gray trays that will be scanned. You'll also need to take off your outer layers of clothing and take anything out of your pockets, any jewelry, or anything metal whatsoever.
  • TSA has a "3-1-1" rule for liquids for carry-ons. "Liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be 3.4 ounces (100ml) or less per container; must be in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. The bag limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring."
  • Laptops need to be put into a separate bin from everything else. Don't be afraid to use three or four bins!

Once you're through the line, that's it—you're good to go. Next up, you'll head to your terminal (printed on your boarding pass).

Tip #2: Pack Light

If I have a single motto for flying, it's definitely this:

Be prepared, but not so prepared that you can’t just bring everything in one bag and one carry-on.

I can't stress this enough. You really, really don't want to check your baggage unless you absolutely have to (like if you're flying internationally). I like to bring a rugged laptop backpack with me, with plenty of room for my clothes, laptop, and a book, and a small carry-on bag if necessary (like if I'm bringing my BJJ gi with me). You're allowed to bring a backpack or small suitcase and one "carry on" bag (purse sized) with you, which you can stow either underneath your seat or in the overhead compartments on the plane.

If you think you're going to need a lot more stuff than you can fit in these two containers, consider wearing more clothes onto the plane, or consider simply purchasing the stuff you need once you land. The hassle of going to the baggage carousel boggles my mind, and virtually every passenger does this. I'm here to tell you from experience that this is something you really don't have to do!


An extra-goofy passport photo of me

An extra-goofy passport photo of me

Tip #3: Expect Delays

Bring a book. Although you are generally able to use your laptop or tablet computer while in the air, you must stow it away in your bag during takeoff and landing (I prefer to keep my laptop bag with me, under the seat in front of me, just in case I want to grab something out of it). While you may also be able to purchase wifi on your flight (or maybe even get it for free, if you're lucky), it's generally not worth the hassle of getting out and putting away whatever you're typing on. The simple low tech solution? Bring a book and catch up on some reading.

And that book, laptop, and fully charged cell phone are all going to come in handy for the inevitable layovers between connecting flights. Unless you're flying nonstop (which can be as much as twice as expensive), you're almost definitely going to have a layover at an airport, and you may very well have an extremely long layover that you didn't expect to have. The simple solution? Go ahead and expect this layover, and when it happens, you'll be fully armed with a charged laptop, cell phone, and a book to read.

You may also want to consider bringing a (fully sealed) snack along for the flight. Eating at the airport can be extremely pricey. If you're a drinker, you're likely to spend upwards of $50 at an airport bar just trying to kill time and get a buzz on. Instead, use the time at the airport productively to get some work done, catch up on old emails, or just read that book you've been putting off for years!

Scroll to Continue

Bonus: What Happens If I Miss My Connecting Flight?

If you're anything like me, you've probably freaked out over the thought of missing your connecting flight because of some events beyond your control, like your plane arriving later (due to a delay at the airport or in the air). Take a deep breath, and realize that this is not a huge deal. You're going to be all right.

When you arrive at the airport, head to the connecting gate and just ask an agent what to do next. That's really it. In my experience, they'll just point you to the nearest customer service desk for your airline, and they'll simply print you another ticket for the next available connecting flight.

If, as a result of an airline's screw-up, you're going to have to stay the night in another city, they'll generally give you a hotel voucher. This is very rare, and you're really rolling a snake-eyes when this happens, but it isn't out of the question. Most likely you can take a free airport shuttle to your hotel and back to the airport the next day.

Quick recap and tips

Note—I don't do everything this guy suggests in the video, but you might find the tips really useful.


  • Pack light
  • Account for/prep for TSA
  • Bring a book, a laptop, and a smartphone (and chargers)

You're going to be just fine!


Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on September 15, 2014:

Thanks, VioletteRose! It's just something to keep in the back of your mind for next time. If it helps just a little, I'm happy. :)

VioletteRose from Atlanta on September 15, 2014:

Packing light is really important. Unfortunately, I fail to do this every time I fly and always struggle to manage the luggage. When there are connecting flights and if you have to move the luggage to the next flight, this is a bigger problem. Your tips are very helpful :)

Andrew Smith (author) from Richmond, VA on September 09, 2014:

Pawpaw, thanks! I loved going to Vegas. I've been maybe a dozen times, and every time is an adventure!

Jim from Kansas on September 09, 2014:

Useful information, for people flying for the first time. My first flight was to Vegas. It went better than I thought it would.

Related Articles